Senator Tom Banks: Democratic Erosion by Stealth

In the wake of what I consider to be the most disastrous Canadian federal election in our history, I thought it pertinent to post the comments of Senator Tom Banks. They speak eloquently for themselves.

Senator Tommy Banks

Over the past few years Mr. Harper’s government has quietly engineered so
many changes that there are some ways in which our country is barely
recognizable. Many of us don’t yet realize the extent of those changes,
because many of them have been brought about very carefully and gradually –
almost imperceptibly in some cases.
This is diabolically clever. If these things had all been done at once,
there would have been loud protests and reactions. But moving just one
little brick at a time doesn’t cause much fuss – until you realize that the whole house has been renovated. And we’ve hardly noticed.
These are changes that are at the very heart of who and what Canadians are.
They are changes to the protections that used to exist against the tyranny
of the majority – or against a single-minded my-way-or-the-highway autocrat.
These changes are losses to our very Canadian-ness. Let me remind you of
some of them:

• The Law Commission of Canada was created by an Act of Parliament in 1997.
It worked very well. It kept an eye – in a sort of avuncular way – on
necessary reforms of the law, including election law. The Commission
couldn’t actually change law; but it was very good at letting governments
and everybody else know when changes needed to be made and why. It was our
legal Jiminy Cricket, and it performed a valuable service for Canada. The
Commission was created by an Act of Parliament, and any government wanting
to shut it down should have been up-front about it. It should have come to Parliament with a Bill to rescind The Law Commission
of Canada Act. That’s what any of our 21 previous Prime Ministers would have done.
But to Mr. Harper, Parliament is an inconvenience. Somebody might ask, “Why
are you doing this?” But he didn’t want to go through all that Parliamentary trouble; so, rather than proposing the abolition of the Commission (a proposal about which there would have been pretty fierce debate on all sides), they just eliminated all funding for it in the federal budget. Governments can do that. Poof – no Law Commission.

Nice and quiet. Just one little brick. Hardly noticed.

• Then there was the Court Challenges Programme, set up in 1994, which was the
means by which a bit of legal help could be provided to a private individual
or small organization who didn’t have a lot of money, and who was taking on,
or being taken on by, the Government of Canada. It leveled the legal
playing field a bit. It was a perfect example of fundamental Canadian
By convincing a tough panel of judges of the reasonableness of your cause,
you could get a little help in paying for some lawyers to go up against the
phalanx of legal beagles that could always, and forever, and at public
expense, be brought to bear against you by the State. In other words, if
you weren’t rich, and if you were taking on or being taken on by the Feds,
you might have had a chance. But Mr. Harper doesn’t like being questioned, let alone challenged. It’s
so inconvenient! Solution? Quietly announce that the Court Challenges Programme is being,
er, discontinued. Poof – no Court Challenges Programme, no court challenges.

Hardly noticed.

• The Coordination of Access to Information Request System (CAIRS) was created
(by a Progressive-Conservative government) in 1989 so that departments of
government could harmonize their responses to access-to-information requests
that might need multi-departmental responses. It was efficient; it made
sure that in most cases the left hand knew what the right hand was doing, or
at least what they were saying; and it helped to keep government open and
accountable. Well, if you’re running a closed-door government, that’s not a good idea, is
it? So, as a Treasury Board official explained to the Canadian Press, CAIRS was
killed by the Harper government because “extensive” consultations showed it
wasn’t valued by government departments. I guess that means that the
extensive consultations were all with government departments.
Wait! Wasn’t there anybody else with whom to extensively consult? Wasn’t
there some other purpose and use for CAIRS? Didn’t it have something to do
with openness and accountability? I guess not. Robert Makichuk, speaking
for Mr. Harper’s government, explained that “valuable resources currently
being used to maintain CAIRS would be better used in the collection and
analysis of improved statistical reporting.”
Right. In other words, CAIRS was an inconvenience to the government. So
poof – it’s disappeared. And, except for investigative reporters and other
people who might (horrors!) ask questions, its loss is hardly noticed.

• And the bridge too far for me: Cutting the already-utterly-inadequate
funding for the exposure of Canadian art and artists in other countries.
That funding was, by any comparison, already laughably miniscule. Mr.
Harper says that “ordinary” Canadians don’t support the arts. He’s wrong.
And his is now the only government of any significant country in the world
that clearly just doesn’t get it. All these changes were done quietly, cleverly, and under the radar. No fuss. No outcry. Just one little brick at a time.

But in these and other ways, our Canadian house is no longer the kind of
place it once was. Nobody minds good renovations. Nobody even minds tearing something down,
as long as we put up something better in its place. That’s not what has
Mr. Harper fired the head of the Canadian Wheat Board because he was doing
his job properly. 
He removed the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission because she
wanted to make sure that the Chalk River nuclear reactor was safe.
Hardly noticed.

There are many more things that were hardly noticed: cuts to funding for
the Status of Women, Adult Learning and Literacy, environmental programs, museums funding, and more. All quietly, just one brick at a time.
Hardly noticed.

As to campaign promises, everybody in sight on every side is guilty of
breaking those. Except the Federal NDP of course, who haven’t yet had the
opportunity. (It’s very easy to make promises that you know you will not
likely have to keep). But the government promised to end wait times in health care. They didn’t.
They promised to end, once and for all, the whining of some provinces about
the non-existent “fiscal imbalance.” They didn’t. They said they had brought final resolution to the softwood lumber problem
with the U.S. They haven’t. They promised to create thousands of new
child-care spaces in Canada. They haven’t. They promised not to tax income trusts (“We will NEVER do that!” they said).
They taxed them. They promised to lower your income tax.
 They raised it.
They said they had a good “made-in-Canada” plan to meet our obligations on
climate change. They don’t.

Mr. Harper has said plainly that whatever
the Americans do is what we’ll do too.
They campaign on a platform of transparency and accountability; but they’re
now trying to discredit the Parliamentary Budget Officer that they created,
because he’s trying to do the job that they gave him. 
Mr. Harper said that our form of government, evolved over centuries from the
900-year-old British Westminster tradition, was all wrong. We had to have
fixed election dates, because otherwise, democratic principles would be
trampled. “Fixed election dates.” he said, “stop leaders from trying to
manipulate the calendar. They level the playing field for all parties.”

So Parliament (remember them?) at Mr. Harper’s insistence, passed a law
requiring fixed election dates, which Mr. Harper promptly broke.

Somebody once said that we get the kind of government we deserve. 
What did we do to deserve Mr. Harper? 
He once said that we should all “Stand Up for Canada.” Well, let’s do
that. We just have to decide whether the present version of Canada is the one that
we’ll stand up for. Or stand for.
Thank you.

–Tommy Banks (an Alberta Senator)

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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